Aussies’ ‘rooting’ makes Eugenie Bouchard’s day
EUGENIE Bouchard's form may not have been as hot as the pink on her outfit - but it was good enough for her to advance to the second round of the Australian Open.
Wearing a bright Nike ensemble, the Canadian was impossible to miss as she defeated France's Oceane Dodin 6-3 7-6 (7-5) under a Melbourne sun that was warming to its task after a gloomy opening day.
Just as conspicuous as the tennis star was a group of Australians down one end of Court 2. You heard them before you saw them, and there was no doubt why they were in the stands.
If the bright red shorts and white T-shirts with "Genie Army" emblazoned on them didn't draw your attention, the group rising from their seats and working Bouchard's name into famous tunes certainly did.
Luckily for the group of a dozen or so men and women - one of whom was being roasted by his mates for committing the cardinal sin of turning up without a hat - their hero delivered. As Bouchard ploughed towards a second round berth, the singing only got louder.
"She's a maniac, maniac on the court and she's hitting like she's never hit before," was sung to the tune of Michael Sembello's Maniac, while Manfred Mann's Do Wah Diddy Diddy also got a run.
"Genie Bouchard she is back at Melbourne Park singing do wah diddy, diddy dum diddy doo … back on the court where she first made her mark singing do wah diddy, diddy dum diddy do."
Steph, one of the inaugural members of the Genie Army, likes the group's Hokey Pokey interpretation the best of the 20-25 chants it has on file.
"She hits a forehand here, a backhand there, a forehand here and she smashes everywhere. We do the Genie Bouchard and we turn around and that's what it's all about."
The Genie Army - before it gave itself that moniker - started following Bouchard at Melbourne Park in 2014 before she was the global brand she is today.
That was the year she announced herself to the world, winning through to the semi-finals in a run that saw ultimately saw her climb as high as World No. 5.
The days of being a fixture in the top-10 are a distant memory - but the Genie Army isn't going anywhere.
"It's so fun," Bouchard said about the support. "All around the court there were a couple of little groups of people cheering me on and it was so nice.
"I haven't played a match, or a big match with that many people rooting for me in a while so it was really, really special."
The Australian Open is as much a festival as it is a tennis tournament. Walk around the Melbourne Park precinct and you're hit with bars, games, people dressed in costumes and music. You could spend a day there and not see a ball hit during your entire stint.
And the Genie Army - who has travelled as far as Canada as well as other places in Australia to watch Bouchard play - was doing its bit to raise the non-existent roof on the outside court.
"She's just a nice person," Steph said. "She's really lovely, she acknowledges us every time she plays so why not come back for more.
"It's been four years and she's been really, really friendly to us - we have a chat every now and then. She's really nice to us.
"It's safe to say that we are (her favourite Australians), she's got a little soft spot for us."
Prior to the Australian Open Bouchard had suffered first round defeats in nine of her past 12 tournaments stretching back to last year's French Open. Her first round loss in Hobart last week was the fifth consecutive time she'd failed to make it to the second round of an event.
Few would have been expecting much from the 23-year-old, whose world ranking has slipped to 112. A gritty win will give fans reason to hope but life gets a lot tougher when she faces No. 1 seed Simona Halep in the second round.
Facing someone ranked 111 places above you is a daunting task. Only time will tell if Bouchard needs more than the supportive cheers of a loyal fan base to cause what would be one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.